Let’s Rise to the Challenge
March 23, 2023
Having spent my entire career working to address climate change and protect our natural world, I am always eager to see the latest report card on how we are doing. On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the report card – we are failing. Although there is hope, particularly when it comes to the use of nature-based solutions to store carbon and adapt to a changing climate.
In 2015 at the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, 195 countries, including the United States, signed on to a target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, while also pursuing efforts to limit temperatures below 1.5 degrees. This pledge was made with the full understanding that temperatures much higher than 2 degrees Celsius would likely result in severe climate change effects. Our current rise in temperature of 1.1 degrees Celsius has already led to rapid changes in our atmosphere and oceans, which is creating more powerful storms, longer lasting droughts, and more damaging wildfire seasons. These dramatic shifts in our weather impact us all. At our current pace we will reach an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in ten years, and likely achieve double that increase with a rise in temperature of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. The leading climate scientists in the world are telling us in this report that we need to act now and with a level of urgency that we have not shown before.
As with any good report card, the IPCC assessment does provide a viable path to course correct. There are real actions that we can take to change our current trajectory and pass the test.
The report points to significant technological advances and more cost-effective clean energy and transportation technologies that are available at a scale never seen before. At the same time, global governments are committing significantly greater amounts of funding and more ambitious policies to fight climate change which is also creating increased movement within the private sector to act. These advances are ready to deploy now at some level, which means we have the tools ready for us to act, we just need the will.
One aspect of the report that stood out for me is the greater recognition of the healing power of nature to provide solutions that can significantly lower carbon emissions while allowing us to adapt to the expected effects of climate change. Essentially providing two benefits for the price of one action. Specifically, the IPCC recommends immediate investments in traditional conservation programs to restore wetlands and forests, and in non-traditional solutions such as greening of urban spaces and regenerative agricultural practices as effective nature-based solutions to fight climate change.
Although we need to use all the tools in our toolkit to meet the enormous challenge of climate change, nature-based solutions can dramatically increase our ability to limit rising temperatures below the tipping point by storing immense amounts of carbon within trees, grasses, wetlands, and even in our oceans and in the soil underneath our feet. They also can provide important multiple benefits such as making our food systems more resilient to droughts, improving our ability to capture rain and refill our freshwater supplies, and restoring critical wildlife habitats which strengthen our ability to adapt to future impacts of climate change. Just as importantly, by working across different landscapes and waters, we have the opportunity to engage with and empower all communities that live and work in these areas as never before, especially those historically excluded from participating.
In many ways Point Blue’s 58-year history building scientific expertise and deep experience in how to best restore our natural environment was made for this moment. It starts with our deep experience in ecological monitoring–from our Palomarin Field Station in Bolinas, out to the Farallon Islands, up and down the coast monitoring snowy plovers, across California’s rangelands where we measure soil health and carbon content, and to Antarctica and beyond. And it builds with our unique ability to store, manage, and analyze that data–an area of expertise recently recognized by the Department of Defense when it mandated that all installations across the 27 million acres of land it managed used Point Blue’s data management platforms to store its avian data. Finally, we’re able to use the findings from our data to influence decisions made at the state and federal level, thanks to our strong partnerships with public land and water management agencies as well as private landowners, such as farmers and ranchers.
The scale of the challenge to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is tremendous. The scale of the solution we choose must be just as tremendous. Unlocking the power of nature to fight climate change is something we need to double down now, and through scaling our investments in nature-based solutions we will rise to the challenge.